Undergrad’s Nanotech Team Wins Duke Startup Challenge, Heads to Other Competition Finals

A team that includes Haas undergraduate Nanxi Liu, BS 12, recently won $70,000 in the Duke Startup Challenge and has made the finals in three other contests, including the UC Berkeley Startup Competition.

The Berkeley startup, called Nanoly, bills itself as a nano-sized solution to a macro-sized problem: vaccines must be refrigerated, and consequently are difficult to deliver to and store in developing regions with limited or no electricity.

On Friday, Nanoly emerged as the overall winner in the Duke Startup Challenge, taking home $50, 000. That's on top of the $10,000 that Nanoly won in the women-led startup track and $10,000 in the undergrad student-led startup track from the competition in March, which drew more than 100 teams. In addition, this month Nanoly won an award valued at $2,500 from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance to attend a VentureLab workshop, including free registration and travel expenses.

Nanoly also won third place in the Cornell Venture Challenge on April 19. The team will compete April 24 against eight other semifinalists in the life sciences track in the UC Berkeley Startup Competition. And the team is a semifinalist in the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, which will announce winners in June.

The startup is developing technology composed of nanoparticles and a hydrogel that would eliminate the need to refrigeration for vaccines, addressing a major barrier to providing vaccines in developing countries. Its technology would help address the fact that 2.1 million people die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the World Health Organization, and 1.7 million deaths of children under the age of 5 in 2008 were attributable to vaccine-preventable diseases.

Liu serves as the business lead for the team, which also includes two UC Berkeley PhD students, Chawita Netirojjanakul (Chemistry) and Peter Matheu (Applied Science and Tech.). Liu originally came up with the idea for the startup with a friend and another member of the team, Balaji Sridhar, who is earning his medical degree and PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Colorado.

"One of the things we're both passionate about and one thing [Balaji] does research on is global health," Liu says. Sridhar, who Liu knows from high school, began working with the polymer for a completely different purpose─cartilage regeneration.

Since the team's formation, Liu says, "there's been a lot of interest across the board from pharma companies and from investors."

Visit Nanoly's website

Watch a video on Nanoly

Nanxi Liu, BS 12